Those Were The Happiest Days Of My Life

by Chris Rostenberg

By the time high school graduation came around, I hadn’t applied to college anywhere. My dad and I checked out which colleges had rolling admissions and we decided I’d apply to a state college. In Pennsylvania. Why? I have no idea. We visited Beaver College, where Ms. Repa had gone, but the town reeked, so I went to the University of Clarion.

My dad gave me an old Toyota, which I called “The Veeneesian Probe” because that’s what I thought cars from Venus were called. I stuck glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. I parked somewhere illegally and someone stuck a huge sticker over my driver’s side window saying, “YOU ARE PARKED HERE ILLEGALLY.” I tore it down and applied it to the inside passenger door and drove around with it.

Now, I still had the energy-analyzer magnet stuck on my mom’s refrigerator. It was holding up the tip of a squirrel’s tail. I had tracked down this squirrel, grabbed it, and it had dug its teeth into my hand. I screamed. These little kids laughed. The squirrel got away and ran. But I was still holding the tip of his tail, which had broken off. So I stuck the tip of the tail on the refrigerator.

Now, my prom date was this pretty whistler named Gabby, and she did not believe me about my squirrel trophy. She said, “No, I don’t believe you. You found road-kill of a squirrel, took off its tail and stuck it on your refrigerator.” Wrong, Gabby. She didn’t believe I made my comic book either. (Her friend Pam was a tiefling warlock with a +2 bonus to her Intelligence and Charisma and she wanted to be a TV producer, and we both had the hots for each other, but my BIOSCAN would not let me proceed. Today she warps the youth at MTV.) Anyway, I stuck the energy-analyzer magnet to the glove compartment to hold my things.

TACTICAL. I had to drive six hours down Route 80 in a blizzard at night to get back to school on winter break. I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t see the highway exits. It was too dangerous to pull off to the side of the road. My headlights were reflected back in the falling snow like when the Starship Enterprise flies into V’Ger. So I got behind a truck, turned off my headlights, and followed the truck’s tail-lights. How the trucker saw, I have no idea. Playing on the radio was the Pretenders song, “Back on the Chain Gang,” I found a picture of you. / Those were the happiest days of my life. / Like a break in the battle was your part / in the wretched life of a lonely heart.

This cute girl, Ripley, and I liked each other and I ran a bioscan on her to see if she was kind, and she passed the test, so she became my girlfriend. When she was young, she had spoken in tongues. I pointed out this strange fellow who would walk around talking to himself. “He’s not talking to himself,” Ripley explained. “He’s talking to God.”

I used to sing songs to Ripley like “It’s a Sin” and “Eidleweiss.” She always wanted to know what was going on in my mind when I sang to her. Ripley took me to her house in a little town with literally one traffic light. It had lots of churches and bars.

I took her to Manhattan with me and she was stunned by the subway. She had never been on a train before. When you enter the subway, you have to pay to get by the little bar-thing. When you leave, you just walk through the bar-thing. I messed with Ripley’s head and wouldn’t “pay” for her to leave the subway, and she got really mad.

Pennsylvanian pizza would be illegal in New York. I hung out with the international students and I asked them what was different between America and their counties. Athena said Greek guys didn’t walk around with condoms in their wallets. A European guy couldn’t believe that we thought Hershey’s was chocolate. The Italian said we had no history. Shogo said Japanese students did our college math in the sixth grade. He said a lot of Americans did not belong in college and he gave me a long look. 

I had no study skills. As a child, I had struggled to do my homework, but had made a mistake and my mother ripped up my homework. I had thrown a fit when she did that. After that, she made zero effort to help me study. My dad’s effort to toss me into a prep school for a year hadn’t worked. My frustrated mother once stole my D&D stuff and hid it in the trunk of her car until I put the garbage bags on her bed and she relented. I would not be disciplined. I would not last long at Clarion. 

But I had auditioned for the class play. The teacher threw Ripley and me into an improv and told me to try to ask Ripley out on a date. Ripley had no experience with acting and was not interested in being in the play. She turned her back on me and I saw no way to progress with the scene. I should have just broken out and sung “Greased Lightening.” Turned out, the play had already been cast for older students and the audition was just to give an impression for the teacher in plays to come. Man, I had to be a real genius to go from suburbs of New York to Clarion, Pennsylvania to hang out with international students and study acting, but that was not the only dumb move I was making.

The TV acting teacher had wanted me to be in an intro class, but I wouldn’t allow it, and he called me a pushy New Yorker. The teacher told us that if we ever made it to New York to act, not to walk around gazing at the buildings like you were a moron. I’m amazed by the buildings in New York all the time. He told the class that casting directors would type-cast you, so you had to know what type you were. You had to go up in front of the class and just tell a story and the students would write down what your stereotype was. I told them the story of Trouble, my pet squirrel.

Many kids in the class said I seemed like a Jewish criminal. In a videotaped performance, I would be assigned the role of John Bender from The Breakfast Club, and antagonized the Molly Ringwald character, Claire. I borrowed my costume from a punk who considered his costume to be “clothes” and didn’t like his “clothes” called a “costume.”

In Ripley’s dorm was a woman named Bertha who had sold me some pot. After I told my story about the squirrel, Bertha got up and told her story. She had dated a guy, who she discovered was a jerk, so she hooked him up with a girl she knew had a venereal disease. I said to this Christian guy sitting next to me, a good actor, that I didn’t know women could be so evil. He said, “Oh, no, you’d be surprised.”  Boy, was he right!

A few months ago, Mr. Fred retired from teaching the acting program at MHS. The PACIES announced a secret party on Facebook and planned on surprising him. I looked forward to seeing everyone again, so I showed up. But I came a day too late. Pam told me that not a lot of my own classmates came, and I can tell you that at the class reunion, none of the former actors had seemed to remember PACE as fondly as I did. None of my old D&D friends cared about the game for that matter, either. While I had enjoyed refereeing the game, I can’t play it when others DM because of my ADHD. I have no idea what is going on and I keep getting kicked out.

Anyway, last month I went to a play at MHS on the 35th anniversary of my recital and the kids were having a great time. They were acting out a Star Wars skit where Luke gets his arm cut off and it was so funny. The parents were especially entertained. And as I sat there in the audience, looking at these young, beautiful, happy and optimistic kids, I knew that some of them would crash and burn the way I did when I was 20, and I nearly cried.

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